What is This Thing Called Repentance?
By Eli Stutzman
November 1, 2016
Matthew 3:1-3: In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
When John the Baptist began his ministry, he went around preaching repentance. Common people whom we might call simple received his message. However, there were those who did not receive it. These were the Scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law. Their concept of repentance was probably that others needed to repent, but they themselves had life under control, and therefore did not need to repent.
Even though we know and would whole- heartily agree that we are all sinners by birth, we feel good about ourselves after confessing and staying clear of misdeeds for a while. And the Scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law likewise wondered what the call to repentance was about. Yet, you and I know that they, too, needed to repent. It all comes down to the question, “What does repentance mean?” That is the intent of this writing.
Like new wine aging to perfection produces gas, the new covenant took some understanding of the fact that thinking had to change for those who desired to become a part of it. New wine would burst old wineskins, and new thinking will burst old ways of thinking. The new covenant will stretch your mind and cannot fit into the old way, which is the system of laws and punishment for disobedience.
When Israel was liberated from Egypt, they went from slavery to being a free nation all in one day. The adjustment is well documented in the Old Testament.
For a moment I shall digress. When I was young, I often had the privilege of seeing a field newly plowed. I would marvel at how clean it looked when it was just finished. What had been growing yesterday was now clean and ready to receive new seed. What was turned under was not only weeds, but grass that might have produced hay if allowed to grow. Not only are weeds turned down, but also valuable plants.
Not only is sin turned down when we repent, but the old thinking that stood in the way. Some of that thinking was not evil in itself; it just stood in the way. And that is why Scribes and Pharisees could not repent. Repentance was for evil people.
Likewise we, too, have difficulty adjusting to being set free under Christ. The question immediately pops up, “What drives people to obey if the law is not compelling and threatening punishment?” It seems dangerous.
When a slave is set free, he has to learn to live free. No one tells you what you have to do. Sleep late? After all if you can’t sleep till 9, are you free? It may not be a good idea, but others will certainly notice. And we do notice when other believers do things that are unwise. What then moves us to serve Jesus? The answer has to be love.
When I first knew beyond a doubt that I was born again, I also knew that God loved me absolutely and truly. Now my degree of serving matches my degree of loving him, also. You can determine how much you love God by how you serve. Jesus teaches that if I don’t love my brother and even think that I love God, then I am a liar and only fool myself. Repentance teaches me not only to reject sin, but also to live in freedom. That is hard when you love the perks of slavery (See Numbers 11:5).
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